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Maintaining network infrastructure in a pandemic and beyond

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4 lasting effects of growing remote workforces on networks

In this roundup of network blogs, explore expert advice on increasing remote workers' efficiency, potential lasting effects of COVID-19 on networks and the future of networking.

One differentiator between COVID-19 and past virus outbreaks is the role technology plays in people's daily lives. Technology is central -- from how people gather information about the virus to how they keep in touch with friends and family to the growing remote workforces that companies now have.

Three networking bloggers recently explored how growing remote workforces due to COVID-19 could leave lasting effects on all networks, including business, residential and VPNs. While the overall effects of this pandemic are still unknown, these experts claimed organizations and networks will feel long-term, lasting effects of increased remote workforces, as well as see an increased reliance on VPNs and collaboration platforms.

While companies may have believed their remote work policies and technologies were efficient, emergency situations, such as the global response to COVID-19, show how ill-prepared various types of networks are to support remote workforces. However, this situation can also help organizations prepare to support large remote workforces more effectively in the future.

During this time, IT and network teams may reevaluate capabilities they outsource to service providers to adapt to remote workforces. For example, teams that contract with service providers can bolster network capacity and provide more flexibility, said Dean Bubley, founder of technology analyst and consulting firm Disruptive Analysis, in a blog post.

According to Bubley, four effects of remote workforces on network infrastructure are the following:

  1. fixed broadband capacity upgrades, due to increased remote workforces as employees work from home in addition to other home network uses, such as streaming or online shopping;
  2. greater capacity demands in residential areas -- which are inherently less capable of supporting activity than office networks -- as opposed to sports venues and other areas where demand is normally greater and now see significantly less traffic;
  3. more focus on policy control for networks that deliver high-stakes applications, including telemedicine applications and information resources; and
  4. increased focus on reliability and security for residential network infrastructure, as this infrastructure connects remote workers to companies, loved ones and essential information.

While traffic varies by country and region, Bubley said network operators should expect shifts in demand and traffic as people expect their home networks to work as efficiently as office networks.

"Both with the current COVID-19 and any future pandemics, networks and telecoms will form a core part of the direct medical response and crisis management. But perhaps more importantly, it will enable humanity to adapt to challenges and difficulties in entirely new ways by improving the ability to work and live wherever required," Bubley said.

Delve deeper into Bubley's analysis of COVID-19's effect on networks.

Tips for increasing efficiency in remote workforces

As working remotely is inevitable for most organizations amid a pandemic, businesses must respond properly to enable efficient remote workforces indefinitely. For businesses that need to adopt remote work strategies, two key technologies to focus on are VPNs and collaboration platforms, said Gary Barton, network and IT services analyst at GlobalData Technology.

COVID-19 will (hopefully!) be a temporary factor, but it is likely to accelerate the trend towards employees spending less time on corporate premises.
Gary BartonNetwork and IT services analyst, GlobalData Technology

VPNs, which enable encrypted connections from authorized end users to networks and network resources, are essential for remote workforces. Since countries began to mandate social distancing, VPN usage has spiked significantly, Barton said. Collaboration platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, Slack and Cisco Webex, have also seen spikes in usage. These platforms enable teams to stay connected, as users can create groups for full team communication and private message for one-on-one connections.

However, organizations shouldn't invest in VPNs or collaboration platforms solely due to pandemic concerns. Remote workforces have increased significantly in recent years, Barton said, and many industries continue to head in the direction of remote work.

"[T]he macro trend in businesses has been towards more flexible and remote working practices for some time. COVID-19 will (hopefully!) be a temporary factor, but it is likely to accelerate the trend towards employees spending less time on corporate premises," Barton said.

See more of Barton's tips for remote workforce efficiency.

What does the future of networking look like now?

While COVID-19 has created challenges for organizations, the pandemic also emphasizes existing challenges within businesses. One challenge is the pressure to move to software-based services and where legacy networking equipment fits in that equation, according to Tom Nolle, president of CIMI Corp. It's hard to tell, especially as the networking industry has consistent budget issues for teams and many experts and vendors don't agree on where networking's value lies.

"The biggest problem that networking has, which is therefore the biggest problem that network vendors have, is that networking is the truck that delivers your Amazon order, not the order itself. The value proposition isn't what networking is but what it delivers," Nolle said.

This means network vendors aren't the ones with the power to raise budgets or improve network spending, according to Nolle. Yet, as vendors raise prices for services, the case for open network models grows more popular, if not an inevitable destination for the networking industry. Open network models could provide a reliable and affordable network model for organizations that choose to turn away from vendor services.

However, this open network model provides more questions than answers. Yet, Nolle suggested looking toward cloud environments, which may be the best examples of what future networks will aim to emulate. Cloud environments also provide examples of network policies and controllers, which can enable the open network model's creation. For now, only time will tell -- although COVID-19 might shed light on the underlying issues.

Explore Nolle's thoughts on the future of networking.

This was last published in March 2020

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